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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Fall camp is officially in the books and game week is finally here, which means football is on the horizon. There’s no surer way to know that than for Michigan football to enter its usual weekly schedule, which included a Jim Harbaugh press conference each Monday before the game.
Now outside due to COVID, Harbaugh spoke to reporters at a lectern in front of a backdrop clamped to the brick facade of Schembechler Hall. WolverinesWire’s Isaiah Hole was there, with Harbaugh covering a litany of topics, including the starting quarterback, team health, Mike Macdonald’s playcalling, what he’s seen from Western Michigan, and much, much more.
Here is everything that the Wolverines head coach had to say five days before the 2021 season is set to kick off.
What’s different about the enthusiasm and excitement in 2021?
“Well, been through a very good winter cycle. Been through a really good spring practice. Summer cycle of training. We’ve been through a fall camp. One thing that’s been consistent has been the energy of our team, the enthusiasm of the club. And I think that’s been generated by both the coaches and the players.”
What kind of team does he feel he has?
“You’re a seasoned vet, I think you know the answer to that. You think you’re good. I think we have a very good team. And then you really have to play the game. You have to play the game to find out exactly where you’re at. Believe we’re capable. Also, believe it’s gonna take playing our best every single week to have a chance to win. That’ll be the case each and every time we play.”
What are the most important duties of the captains?
“The most important duties are leading, leading by example. How they conduct themselves on the field, off the field, one-on-one – you name it, in all situations. Our team, our captains understand those responsibilities. It’s a really high bar. Tremendous honor to be elected by your teammates as a captain, also a tremendous responsibility that comes along with that.”
Is Cade McNamara officially the starting quarterback?
“Yes, Cade McNamara is our starting quarterback. His constant improvement – he’s really ratcheted it up in a lot of different areas. The biggest one, consistency. Consistency of doing his job, also call it a talent of making everybody else around you better. Maybe that’s the most important job of a quarterback.”
Will he play J.J. McCarthy as well?
“All options will be open. All options will be open about playing J.J. or anybody else on the roster.”
What’s the biggest improvement for the defense?
“I think the thing that strikes me and the thing I’ve noticed early on – just really anybody who’s come and watched our practice, former players – is the amount of communication. Communication on the field, also on the sidelines. Guys coaching guys, guys talking. Guys spitting out the calls. That’s been tremendous. Something I think is a consistent thing that we’ve seen throughout spring ball and throughout training camp.”
“Hunter Neff sustained an injury in spring ball. It’s gonna keep him out of the season. And then Jake Thaw and Lucas Andrighetto also will be out for the season.”
What’s the starting OL look like?
“It looks good. It’s still – we’re not gonna announce what it is. I still feel like we’re five, six, seven, eight really good players we consider starters at this time.”
On team vaccination rate
“Team 99%. Protocols of wearing a mask. Some meetings are virtual. Other accommodations we’ve made. But mainly wearing the mask.”
Does he expect 100% vaccinations?
"I don’t want to speak for anybody else. But that’s where we are right now.”
What sticks out about Cade McNamara’s leadership?
“Really locked in. Really knows his assignments. Great work ethic. Just the unselfishness, I think, is probably the biggest thing. Sticks out about his leadership is his desire to get the ball to playmakers and make people around him better. Move the offense a lot.”
Pressure on the team
“Yeah, we want to play as hard as we can as fast as we can as long as we can while we’re out on the field. Whatever the situation. “Really pressure – if you know what you’re doing, if you’re prepared, that doesn’t put pressure on you. The times you don’t know what you’re doing, doing any of our jobs, right? Playing sports, the best way to handle that is to know what your assignment is, know what your job is, do that and do it with confidence.”
How important is it for Cade to know he’s the starter?
“How important that is? Those are things earned. I think anybody on the team will tell you we all saw that the same. He’s earned that.”
What he’s seen from Western Michigan on film
“I’ll start with the defensive side of the ball. Lou Esposito does a fantastic job. You’re just talking pressure, you’re talking attack – attack defense. And they’re really good at it. Fifth in the country in tackles for loss. The tackles for loss really stand out about them – they average about 8.5 in a game. Really good at sacks, too. Ranked 13th in the NCAA in sacks. A couple of really good defensive linemen. Secondary that’s – they’re covering and they do a really good job. Right now, studied them for a while here, they want a fast outcome in their favor. Get it to where you can’t find the receiver, get it to where you can’t find the one-on-one matchup. They do a good job covering. They do a good job of putting pressure on the offense. “Them offensively, they’re really good at what they do. They execute really well, at a high level. Quarterback Eleby, really fantastic. When you rank third in the country in pass efficiency, that’s playing really efficient, that’s playing really good football. La’Darius (Jefferson) – a fine running back. All the running backs are really – they’re north-south guys, they hit holes fast. The receivers do an excellent job – 24 (Skyy Moore), 1 (Jaylen Hall) – both really good. Making the catch, but also what they do when they’ve made the catch, what they do with the ball after, yards after catch – extremely good. The offensive line, as well. They play really good together. Just – they play really good football. They execute their schemes extremely well.”
Who are the starting cornerbacks?
“I would say we have three starting corners. Gemon Green, Vince Gray, DJ Turner. And I wouldn’t even say they’re in that order. Vince, DJ, Gemon; DJ, Gemon, Vince. We (feel) good with our corners.”
Having fans back giving the team homefield advantage
“I’m excited about it. To speak for myself – I think all our players are. I think Ann Arbor is. Most people I’ve talked to can’t wait to be back in that stadium. The only thing I could really compare it to is a Super Bowl environment. That many people, that many people around outside the game. Just everything that goes on. Tremendous thrill. Can’t wait!”
Scoring first in the game
“We’ve been doing a lot of practice sessions where we get into it fast, we get into the team aspect of it, whether that’s group of 11-on-11. Most of the time, we’re doing something football right off the stretch. Sometimes a short individual and then right into it. But the ability to be able to start fast is something we’ve put an emphasis on.”
On differences with Mike Macdonald and Don Brown
“No real catchphrases or things we’re espousing. We just want to play good defense. “We’re doing the same thing Western’s trying to do. You want to have a quick outcome, best outcome in your favor. Sometimes you want to play cover, sometimes you want to simulate a blitz. All different things you’re trying to get done. You’re trying to stop them, try to keep them from getting points on the board, creating field position.”
On the specialists
“Yeah, Jake’s had a really good camp, Brad’s had a great camp. Both are as ready as any kickers I think we’ve ever had going into the season. Excited to watch them compete on Saturday. “We’re feeling good about where the returners are. There’s a couple – a couple punt returners, a couple kick returners. I would say – you want to go through the week of practice, especially leading up to the game, make sure the guy you put back there gives you the best opportunity to catch the ball and return it.”
Mike Macdonald as a playcaller
“Coach Mac? What kind of playcaller he’s gonna be? Yeah, I got a good feel for that. Got a good feel for that. Feel like he’s ready. In fact, we’ve had a ton of situational calls where we didn’t script it. Especially in fall camp. We’ll see them in every situation. It wasn’t able to be scripted the night before – just was on him. He’s come in well-thought out and come in quick. Got good adjustments, talked about the communication. When your players are communicating, when the players know the calls, know the adjustments, can execute them quick, that’s all of good studying and good coaching.”
Will Macdonald be in the box or sideline?
“He’ll be on the sideline.”
Which coaches will be on the box?
“We still haven’t decided on offense. Haven’t decided every single coach that’s gonna be on the sideline and who’s gonna be in the box. “Is that important? Direly important?”
Important enough that you haven’t decided